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Statcast Curveball Movement Profiles for Week 9


Welcome back to RotoBaller’s pitchers advanced stats and StatCast studs and duds article series! Each week we will select an advanced stat, choose two studs and two duds, and analyze what those stats could mean for future fantasy output. For this week we will use Statcast's new pitch movement tab to look at pitchers' curveball movement, both horizontal and vertical, compared to the league-average movement. 

Statcast's pitch movement data breaks out each pitch by vertical and horizontal movement in inches compared to average movement. For vertical movement, positive numbers refer to relative rise while negative numbers refer to relative drop. For horizontal movement, positive numbers refer to relative break while negative numbers refer to relative lack of break.

Rather than choose studs and duds per se, I will pick one pitcher from each of the four quadrants and analyze how their particular movement has helped or hurt them this season. Pitchers' secondary pitches are key to gaining strikeouts, so taking a look at them can shed insight into their overall fantasy performance. That being said, let's dive in!

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Curveball: Strong Drop and Break

All stats current as of 5/27/19, courtesy of Baseballsavant.com 

 

Rich Hill - Los Angeles Dodgers

Vertical Drop: 4 inches greater than average
Horizontal Break: 7.7 inches more than average

Our first pitcher has an excellent curveball that he relies on heavily. 39-year-old Rich Hill is known for his nasty curve and for good reason; the pitch has a ton of movement on it. Hill has been excellent again this season, posting a 2.67 ERA and 1.07 WHIP with 37 strikeouts in 27 innings pitched. Let's see how the veteran has used his curveball to find success. 

Hill's curveball is extremely deceptive thanks to its 96th-percentile spin rate (2,924 revolutions per minute). Hill relies almost exclusively on his curveball (4.8% usage) and fastball (51.8% usage) but is able to find success thanks to the movement he also gets on his fastball (just 90.5 MPH, but 2,485 revolutions per minute). His movement, coupled with his pinpoint control (4.6% walk rate) allows Hill to limit hard contact (83.6-MPH exit velocity, 25% hard-hit rate) while also racking up strikeouts (28.2% strikeout rate, 9.3% swinging-strike rate).

Despite his age, Hill has all the makings of a high-end fantasy starter. He pitches his home games in pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium and has a strong 3.27 SIERA to back up his performance. The only issue for Hill is his history of injuries. It has been over a decade since Hill as pitched more than 140 innings and he has already done a stint on the 10-day IL this season with a left knee sprain. His proclivity for getting hurt plus his age limits his upside in points leagues, but he is still great on a per-start basis. Hill is more valuable in category leagues for these reasons. That being said, he is a strong fantasy asset in all leagues, thanks in large part to his curveball.

 

Curveball: Strong Drop

All stats current as of 5/27/19, courtesy of Baseballsavant.com 

 

Clayton Kershaw

Vertical Drop: 4.7 inches greater than average
Horizontal Break: 6.3 inches less than average

Our second pitcher is a teammate of Hill's and is well known for his signature roller-coaster hill curveball. Clayton Kershaw needs no introduction, fantasy or otherwise. He is worth taking a deeper look at though; while his 3.24 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and 44 strikeouts in 46 IP are strong by league standards, he has declined personally over the past several seasons. Let's see how Kershaw has used his curveball this season and how it compares to his performance and usage in the past.

Kershaw's curveball has the same profile that it always has, a 73.6-MPH average velocity with a league-average 2,474 revolutions per minute. However, his performance with the pitch has been significantly better. The .172 batting average against is lower from 2018's .198, and his 20.2% swinging-strike rate with the pitch is a career high.

The rest of Kershaw's arsenal has trended in an interesting direction. Firstly, Kershaw has primarily thrown his slider (42.5% usage) over his fastball (40.2% usage). The curveball has always been his tertiary pitch, but the fastball has been his primary until this season. Further, Kershaw's velocity on both his slider (87 MPH) and fastball (90.1 MPH) are both significantly down from just two seasons ago (88.6 MPH and 92.8 MPH, respectively). The change in pitch usage and velocity could be attributed to Kershaw's various back injuries. He has been plagued by injuries for multiple seasons now and has failed to pitch 200 innings since 2015.

Kershaw presents a somewhat difficult situation for fantasy players. On the one hand, he has been one of the league's most dominant pitchers for seasons and is still posting very good numbers. On the other hand, his ceiling is ever-decreasing due to his injuries, which both limit his potential innings as well as his velocity and strikeout potential. I still consider Kershaw to be a top-end fantasy starter but would not be opposed to trying to sell him around the middle of the season to avoid the potential back flare up in the second half.

 

Curveball: Strong Break

All stats current as of 5/27/19, courtesy of Baseballsavant.com 

 

Rick Porcello - Boston Red Sox

Vertical Drop: 4.2 inches less than average
Horizontal Break: 5.2 inches greater than average

Our next pitcher was propelled into fantasy relevance in 2016 after winning the Cy Young award and has remained so ever since. However, his numbers have yet to return to hid 2016 marks. Rick Porcello has been pedestrian this season, going 4-4 with a 4.41 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, and 47 strikeouts in 56 2/3 IP. His curveball has been one of his best pitches this season yet he has not been successful overall. What can we make of Porcello's performance and what does it mean for his fantasy value rest of season?

Several things stand out regarding his subpar performance. First, Porcello's command has not been as sharp as it has been in the past. His 7.8% walk rate overall is a good deal higher than his 5.5% career mark, leading to a higher WHIP and a decreased strikeout rate (19.3%, his lowest since 2014).

Further, Porcello has never been much of a strikeout pitcher to begin with but has been even less successful in that department this season. His curveball has an above-average spin on it (2,794 revolutions per minute) yet has generated an 8.1% swinging-strike rate, down from his career 8.7% on the pitch. He has used the pitch just 10.6% of the time this season, but the rest of his pitches have been equally unsuccessful at getting swings and misses (8.2% mark overall).

Porcello had a career season in 2016 and people jumped on the bandwagon. The issue is that too many people are still on it. Porcello has always been a back-end fantasy starter and still remains that. His lack of swing-and-miss stuff and command issues this season have been buoyed by the overall strong offense backing him up. There is nothing wrong with Porcello if he is valued as such, but his underlying metrics support that he is merely a mediocre fantasy option.

 

Curveball: Below-Average Drop and Break

All stats current as of 5/27/19, courtesy of Baseballsavant.com 

 

Domingo German - New York Yankees

Vertical Drop: 3.5 inches less than average
Horizontal Break: 6.3 inches less than average

Our final pitcher has rebounded nicely from a poor 2018 coming-out season and has helped an injury-ridden team find success. 26-year-old Domingo German has been a rotation fixture for the Yankees this season, going 9-1 with a 3.43 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 63 strikeouts in 60 1/3 IP. He has relied primarily on his curveball (36.5% usage) to this point; is this a tactic that can work for an entire season when the pitch moves less than average?

German's curveball is interesting because it resembles more of a slider than a curveball, hence the lesser relative movement. He throws the pitch at 81.2 MPH, which is faster than the league average curveball. Regardless of its movement, it has been an extremely successful pitch; German has generated a .140 batting average against and a 20.2% swinging-strike rate. Beyond his curve, German has mixed in all of his pitches well (fastball: 33.5% usage, changeup: 18.3%, sinker: 11.7%), allowing him to get strikeouts (13.6% swinging-strike rate overall) while avoiding hard contact (88.6-MPH exit velocity, 38.1% hard-hit rate).

In sum, it looks like German could certainly rely on his curveball to be successful throughout the season. He is currently 86% owned, but based on his numbers, there is no reason he should not be owned everywhere. As long as he continues to mix his pitches well and hit his spots, there should be no worries about his heavy curveball usage.

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